Romelu Lukaku powers Everton past struggling Chelsea in FA Cup
LIVERPOOL, England -- Three observations from Goodison Park, where Everton advanced to the FA Cup semifinals with a 2-0 victory over Chelsea.
1. Lukaku powers Everton through
It was only a matter of time before Romelu Lukaku scored against Chelsea. Four matches came and went, along with several presentable chances to underline the folly of Jose Mourinho's decision to sell the powerful, young Belgian to a Premier League rival in the summer of 2014. On Saturday, the point was finally made in the most emphatic fashion possible.
A peripheral figure until the 78th minute, Lukaku showed power and poise to bully the Chelsea defence and provide the moment that turned the match. Brushing off the grappling Cesar Azpilicueta, the 22-year-old jinked past Branislav Ivanovic before twisting Gary Cahill 360 degrees and slotting the ball beyond Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Goodison Park had barely stopped cheering when Lukaku struck again four minutes later, racing onto a Ross Barkley through ball and firing through the legs of the Chelsea No. 1 with his weaker right foot. The home supporters rose as one clapping, cheering mass when he left the field in injury time.
The magnificent double increased Lukaku's tally for the season to 25 goals -- more than Diego Costa, Loic Remy, Radamel Falcao and Bertrand Traore combined. Rarely has a single statistic been quite so damning of a transfer decision that could haunt Chelsea for years, even if Costa, the man Lukaku's development was sacrificed for, does go on to establish a lasting legacy at Stamford Bridge.
At 22, Lukaku's level of productivity and potential for future improvement is truly frightening. How long Everton will continue to enjoy the fruits of his immense talent is another matter, but if new majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri -- watching at Goodison Park on Saturday for the first time since his arrival on the board -- has anything to do with it, he will be going nowhere.
"I can confirm that I have committed to providing additional funds for transfers and retaining our key players to ensure that we have a strong core to build on for the future," Moshiri wrote in his first message to Everton supporters in the matchday programme.
Not that Everton supporters or Lukaku lingered on such long-term concerns on Saturday, as he finally made his point and ended Chelsea's season.
2. Costa loses the battle
Few who saw Costa limp off the Stamford Bridge pitch against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday night, taking Chelsea's Champions League hopes with him, could have imagined the Spain international being in the physical state to make any sort of contribution at Goodison Park just three days later.
Eden Hazard did not even travel with the squad to Merseyside due to "a small issue with a tendon in his hip area." But Costa was picked to start and immediately found his flow, not as the prolific goalscorer of recent weeks but the pantomime villain who became notorious under Mourinho, capable of waging war on an entire stadium.
In an otherwise forgettable first half, Costa brought the intensity that Chelsea needed to survive the Goodison Park roar and Everton's brutal early pressing, earning a yellow card for some WWE-style retribution on Gareth Barry seconds after being denied a free-kick and engaging anyone who happened to cross his path.
Goodison Park booed and jeered but Costa feeds off such vitriol. By the end of the first half, his white kit was so drenched in mud from long spells on the floor as the aggressor and the victim that he decided to change it at the interval.
For a while, it seemed that a different Costa had emerged, not just cleaner but also more dangerous. Abandoning the aimless wanderings of the first half, he re-focused his game on the penalty area, racing onto a Cesc Fabregas through ball to round Everton goalkeeper Joel Robles and send the ball spinning agonisingly along the goal line from an impossible angle.
But there was no extension of the scoring run that briefly revived Chelsea's torrid season. Costa's frustration boiled over in one final clash with Barry after Lukaku's second goal had settled the match, and referee Michael Oliver responded by handing Costa his first red card in English football.
Barry's dismissal moments later will be no consolation, and further punishment may follow for Costa if the Football Association decides that biting occurred while the two men were entangled. If it does, Guus Hiddink will lose his only true match winner.
3. Premature end to Chelsea's season
Chelsea seem to hate playing at Goodison Park. Far more talented Blues sides have become accustomed to battling for every inch of forward progress on previous visits and still been defeated. The roar of the crowd is relentless and the football generated is scrappy, chaotic, physical and intense.
So it was again in an ugly match punctuated by Lukaku's moment of solo brilliance. Everton pinned Chelsea back for significant spells of a first half that was high on running and low on cunning as Goodison Park attempted to suck the ball past Courtois. The home side remained on the front foot throughout, their energy providing the platform for their striker's big moments.
Much was made of Guus Hiddink's good memories of facing Everton in the FA Cup, having beaten them in the final of the 2009 competition to cap his first interim spell as Chelsea manager. The Dutchman will be considerably less keen to recall a defeat that condemns his second stint at Stamford Bridge to a trophyless and joyless finale.
Chelsea seasons are not supposed to end in March. Hiddink cannot take blame for a campaign that crumbled into ruin well before the turn of the year. His calming presence, rebuilding the confidence of a shattered squad and showing greater faith in youth, has achieved much that his successor will appreciate.
But he will take no pride in his accomplishments now that a torrid season has met the end it always deserved. The Champions League is gone, there will be no grand day at Wembley and the Premier League run-in now resembles a listless fulfillment of fixtures. All Hiddink and Chelsea can do is count the days until the summer brings change and fresh hope.